Officer's Dress Uniform

Clark's Dress Uniform

Clark's Dress Uniform1

blue coat with red trim

Photo courtesy Peyton C. Clark

back of a blue coat with red trim

Photo courtesy Peyton C. Clark

side of a blue coat with red trim and brass buttons

Photo courtesy Peyton C. Clark

brass button with a picture of a cannon

The gilt buttons of an officer in the Corps of Artillerists may have been embossed with the image of a flag and a cannon on a carriage.

Photo courtesy Peyton C. Clark

A steady process of replacing worn-out woven fatigues with leather clothing began when the Corps set out from Fort Mandan in April of 1805, but by the time they reached the mouth of the Columbia River their leather attire was rotten and full of holes. Still, the captains held on to their dress uniforms because they were important in dealing with Indian tribes—the emblems of authority, counterparts of the Indian leaders' ceremonial attire.

Throughout the expedition the officers wore their dress uniforms on special occasions such as parades and reviews, to reinforce pride and esprit de corps. They also wore them on official occasions such as courts-martial, and the burial of Sergeant Charles Floyd.

"Captain" Clark, who actually was a second lieutenant in the Corps of Artillerists during his duty with the expedition,2 probably wore a dress uniform coat of blue and red wool, lined with red linen. The red turnback of the coat skirt signified an artillery officer, as did the 20 gold-plated buttons embossed with an image of an artillery gun and carriage, and the red sash. A white belt, held in place over the right shoulder by a gold epaulet, carried the officer's sword.

Under his coat an officer wore "small clothes"—a knee-length flannel or linen pullover shirt, with ruffles at the neck and sleeves, was tucked into the waistband and between the legs of a pair of white "pantaloons." No one yet wore what we know today as "underwear," but the long shirt flaps fulfilled this function. The legs of the pantaloons, similar to modern trousers except for the fact that they were cut very full in the seat, covered knee length stockings, and over them an officer wore a pair of black boots.

Evidently one pair of Lewis's uniform pants were of satin, for he recorded that on January 3, 1806, he gave the Clatsop chief, Coboway, "a pare of sattin breechies with which he appeared much pleased." The gold trim of Clark's coat was made of thread wrapped with fine gold wire.

Lewis's Dress Uniform

Captain Meriwether Lewis, 1st U.S. Infantry Regiment

Lewis in profile wearing a blue coat, white pants, sword, and holding an espontoon

Historic Art by Michael Haynes—Text by Bob Moore
Details enlarged by David Nelson

Prints of the entire collection Michael Haynes's paintings of uniforms worn by the Corps of Discovery are available direct from the artist.

Officer's Hat

Beaver-felt chapeau bras3

With embossed leather cockade,
plume, gold cord and gold tassels

tall, blue hat with red plumetall, blue hat with red plume

Officer in Action

"The First Council with the Indians
Held by Lewis and Clark"

Engraving showing an officer speaking to Indians

Courtesy Missouri Historical Society

Engraving (artist unknown) from Journal of the Voyages and Travels of a Corps of Discovery, by Patrick Gass (Philadelphia: Mathew Carey, 1810)

Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, military styles and fashions continued to evolve. One example of this evolution was the beaver felt hat. By the early 1700s, the older style flop hats were turned up on the sides to prevent windy gusts from blowing them off the heads of soldiers and officers .often taking the wigs of officers along with them! By the 1740s and '50s old floppy acquired the shape of an equilateral triangle when seen from above. This shape changed to a triangle flattened across the front by the time of the American Revolution, becoming narrower and narrower until by 1800 the hat had but two sides instead of three. This new hat was properly calle a chapeau bras, or "arm hat," but was often was referred to as a "cocked hat." Convenient to carry folded under one arm, the chapeau bras measured about 23 inches between tips, and stood about 7 1/2 inches from the forehead to the top.

Beaver hats were favored by civilian as well as military men throughout Europe and the U.S. because they were sturdy and waterproof. The cloth was crafted from the fine underfur, or "wool," shaved from beaver pelts and separated from the coarser hair by a blowing process.

The softer fur was gradually applied to a revolving, perforated copper cone with the aid of a suction device, and smoothed with the hands. With the application of a spray of hot water, the fur fibers began to mat together into a durable fabric called "felt." The cone of wet fur was then transferred to a hat mold while still soft and warm, and worked into the desired shape. When the felt was dry, shellac was applied to the inside of the hat to help hold the shape. The outside was then polished to a glossy finish with brushes, irons, or sandpaper.

The shaved beaver skins were used in the manufacture of glue; the coarse outer hair was used in furniture upholstery.


Further Reading

Robert J. Moore, Jr., "The Clothing of the Lewis & Clark Expedition," We Proceeded On, Vol. 20, No. 3 (August 1994), 4-13,

___________, and Michael Haynes, Tailor Made, Trail Worn: Army Life, Clothing & Weapons of the Corps of Discovery (Helena, Montana: Farcountry Press, 2003, 121-36.

  • 1. Re-creation by Robert Moore, Historian, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, St. Louis; Peyton C. Clark; and Greg Hudson, Weeping Heart Trade Company, Ehrlanger, Kentucky. Photos by Mike Venso.
  • 2. Clark had resigned his commission as a captain in the Infantry in 1796, to return to civilian life. President Jefferson had authorized Lewis to offer Clark a captain's commission to serve as co-commander of the expedition. Unfortunately, the reduction in the size of the standing army had eliminated some officers, and no new appointments could be ranked above men of greater longevity. The only berth available was a lieutenancy in the Corps of Artillerists. Lewis, however, treated Clark as his co-captain without letting on otherwise to the enlisted men. Clark was finally granted a retroactive promotion to the rank of captain by President William Jefferson Clinton on January 17, 2001. See Donald Jackson, Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition with Related Documents, 1783-1854, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1978), 60, 172-73.
  • 3. e-creation by Robert Moore, Historian at Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, St. Louis; Peyton C. Clark; Greg Hudson, Weeping Heart Trade Company, Ehrlanger, Kentucky. Photos by Jon Stealey.